“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.”
Ten years ago. Ten years ago on December 12th, we were T-boned by a Mack truck.
After a truck came to a stop, the driver saw flames coming from under our hood, ran back to his truck to get the fire extinguisher, and then stuffed the nozzle through a gap under the hood and emptied it to put out the fire.
He saw blood pouring from my chin. He yelled for someone to get something and a bystander handed him napkins, which he wrapped around my neck until the bleeding began to slow.
We were all flown and driven to a nearby hospital shortly after.
A Season to Grieve
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.”
The two girls in the backseat with me were released from the hospital that evening but were banged up and dealing with cuts and bruises.
The two girls in the front seat were being monitored and were still in pain from their injuries.
I remained at the hospital for a month as the doctors fought to control my brain pressure and fever before continuing therapy for six months in Atlanta and Knoxville.
While our injuries and recoveries looked different, all of our lives forever changed that morning.
Andrea shared, “I feel horror as I recall images of all of you; of the dismantled car we rode in and the blood from our injuries. There’s a pit in my stomach still, as I remember.”
The other four women went to their parent’s homes to recover over Christmas Break and she recalled, “It was the loneliest Holiday I can ever remember. I was completely engulfed in physical pain, sadness, and confusion.”
“My days are past, my plans are torn apart, even the wishes of my heart.”
Thanks be to God we all made it. But as I continued therapy, my plans to study for the GMAT and go wedding dress shopping that Christmas break and my life felt ripped apart.
Kristin recalled, “The hardest part of that break was knowing what you, Brad, and your parents were going through and the pain and the heartache of the recovery.”
I wrote this letter to myself from therapy four months after the accident.
The hardest part of recovery was the uncertainty of how much of my plans I would get back; the struggle to believe that He was using everything and trust, with clenched knuckles and gritted teeth, that He was healing not in my timing, but in His.
“And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”
– Revelation 21:5
I recently read a book by Jen Hatmaker, Of Mess and Moxie, that reflected on how God reweaves even the most tattered threads of our lives.
What strikes me most about Joseph’s story is the amount of time between when his brothers sold him into slavery and when he stood before them as the second-highest leader in the country.
In these years, Joseph was taken to Egypt and thrown into prison. While in prison, he accurately interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants, who were also incarcerated. When Pharaoh had a disturbing dream no one could interpret, Joseph was summoned from prison. He interpreted Pharaoh’s dream in such a powerful way that he was appointed second-in-command over Egypt.
When his brothers begged for forgiveness some twenty-two years later, he was able to look back and see how He had rewoven these same, torn threads into a stronger version than the first.
After the break, the rest of the women returned to campus with a much different feel from before the accident. Andrea recalled, “There was suddenly SO much love between us all following the accident that nearly took all of the women’s lives.
The men wanted to protect us and spent much of their time taking care of us and creating team bonding activities. This caused an unexpected turn for myself and my teammate, Mike. We began dating in June 2009, shortly after the accident. I firmly believe this would not have happened if it had not been for the events on Dec. 12.”
When I finally returned to campus eight months after the accident, I knew I had to meet the driver of the truck we collided with that had saved our lives. I found his phone number on the accident police report and left a message on his answering machine: “I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Ashley from the car accident in December. I know you saved my life and I’d love to meet you.”
Sitting down for a meal with Jett and three of the women in the accident felt like a victorious reunion. As we sat with us five, Brad, and Mike, we were all so grateful to be at a much better spot than our last meeting on the highway.
We were excited to see how God would continue to reweave our stories.
He’s Not Finished
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us ”
-St. Pope John Paul II
We took this picture at our wedding on the one-year anniversary of the accident. Brad and I wanted to redeem the day and have an annual reminder on December 12th that we are more than the darkest parts of our story.
When I received that letter in the mail, I was recently married. I was driving again, working for FOCUS, and had just been accepted into the University of Nebraska’s MBA program. Since, we’ve started our family with three beautiful, healthy girls, I graduated with my MBA, and I type and write with my right hand to share our story.
Looking back ten years after the accident, I’ve learned to see that He is making all things new, not in my timing, but in His. I can only imagine what I’ll see in another ten years.
Hope Does Not Disappoint
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint.”
This past weekend, shortly after the ten-year anniversary of the accident, I got together with three of the women in the accident at the FOCUS SEEK Conference and it was such a sweet reunion.
Looking back on how far we’ve come since that day gives me such hope.
Kristin lives in Alexandria, Virginia, working as the office administrator for the Basilica of St. Mary and rooms with her sister and three friends. In her heart, she has a strong desire to live and foster intentional meaningful community where people feel loved and is striving to live that out in her work and home environments.
Brigid lives in Detroit, Michigan, working at the Lululemon Headquarters and is happily married with two girls.
Tanya is working in New Orleans, Louisiana as the Lay Programs Coordinator for the Notre Dame Seminary. She works with Lay students, all different ages and ministries, who want to be formed as a Lay Ecclesial Minister in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Andrea and Mike got married in May 2010 and live in Denver, Colorado with their four children. Mike is on the FOCUS Events Team and Andrea works part-time for the FOCUS Alumni Team, while also homeschooling.
Although we’re spread throughout the country, there’s a bond there that will never be broken. Thanks be to God that we’re all where we are today.
No matter where you’re at as the year begins, we have the promise that God is with us, moving us toward wholeness, and we can be confident that the end of His story is good.
If there’s one thing the accident and recovery taught me, it’s this:
At this start of the year, what better time to let God breathe life into us.
If you’re walking through the darkness right now, struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, if the other side of suffering seems like it will never come, know this:
God is molding you like clay. He is refining you through the fire. He’s turning your darkness into light. He’s not finished with you yet.